Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Gladwell’

cover of "Helping" bookI consider myself to be a helpful person. In my professional work I am in a service job within the volunteer field, which is all about helping.  I am always asked for and offering advice.

How much do I really understand about the dynamics of helping?

Although I was socialized to be helpful from the time I was very small, I do not ever remember a formal lesson in giving or receiving help.  This is why I chose to read Edgar Schein’s book, Helping, for a recent assignment for ODKM.

Schein identifies two different frames in which to understand the helping relationship:  theater and economics.

By thinking of helping in terms of economics, Schein highlights two very important principles: communication is a reciprocal process that must at least seem to be fair and equitable, and relationships are based on scripted roles that are culturally defined.  The second principle is the one that I had thought about before reading this book.  From an early age we are taught to be an equitable member of society giving and receiving help: holding the door for others, saying please and thank you, asking for what we need in a polite and scripted way.  However, I was also aware of complications of the first principle, that communication should be fair and equitable.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, unfolds the communication that happens in a doctor’s office between two different families.  In one family, the child is prepped before his doctor’s visit and encouraged to ask the doctor questions about the diagnosis.  The child’s parents are leveling the playing field between the doctor and the child by encouraging the child to take an active role has the patient.  In the other family, the cultural and family norms dictate that the child shows deference to the doctor and does not speak unless directly asked a question.  The child accepts his “one down” position in the doctor’s office.  Unless the Doctor makes an effort to make the situation more equitable by starting in a humble inquiry mode (asking simple open ended questions), he may not be as successful in helping the child because he will not be able to understand the child’s symptoms and what problems actually need to be addressed.

There is a lot of attention to the first principle in the social work field as well.  I have worked within a County government human services department for the last four years.  Even though I am not a social worker, I have observed the practice of social work and have been exposed to different approaches.  One newer approach is called Asset-Based Community Development.  This approach intends to restore face to community members who have been labeled as being in need of help.  Schein’s analysis of the social economics at play in helping relationships reinforced my belief that an asset approach is the best one for building relationships and ultimately for solving community problems.  From this approach, you see the client as someone who has value and is in need of help to bring that value to light.

One of the peculiarities of my line of work which came to light in reading this book is the confusion over offering help and asking for help.  Since I work at a volunteer center, it is my job to respond to email in which someone is both offering to help and also is asking for help.  Basically, it is our role to help people figure out how they can help.  Sometimes when a potential volunteer emails us, they are emailing in the mindset that they are offering help.  Since we are in the business of helping potential volunteers become volunteers, our response is often that we can not use their help, but can help them find a place where they can help.  I think it would be interesting to look carefully at the language that is used in negotiating this dynamic.

How have you seen the social dynamics of helping play out?

What aspect of the helping relationship could volunteers and volunteer managers better understand to improve their working relationship?


Read Full Post »

Person holding a lot of books

Photo Illustration by Doung Sundin/WINONAN

So I’m starting to freak out a little bit because I went a smidge overboard in my ordering and pursuing of reading since the semester ended. I of course ordered the books we are required to read this semester, but I also ordered a bunch of the recommended readings that I found for great prices at half.com.

In addition, I’m continuing to read Malcolm Gladwell and finished the book that Jay was given at Thanksgiving. All this is to say that I am writing this blog post if for no other reason than to account for what the heck I’ve been reading and remind myself that I need to actually put my attention on the school assigned books.


What I’ve Finished Reading Lately:

Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.

Shop Class is a must read for anyone who has ever uttered any of the following jargon:

“knowledge worker” “knowledge economy” “the creative class” “collaborative team environment” “right brain thinking”

or anyone that has a son or daughter that is is interested in a skilled trade.


Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest. by Peter Block
This one I got from the library on Audio Book and listened to on my way to New York. It is a quick listen and definitely thought provoking.

What I’ve started reading but haven’t finished:

Wikipatterns (assigned book)
Seems like a good read for information on how to understand and set up wikis.


Catalytic conversations: Organizational Communication and Innovation (assigned book) by Ann Baker
This is my professor’s new book, hot off the presses.  So far I like it because it is helping me to understand some of why we do things the way we do them in the ODKM program.


The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters by Peter Block
I’m on a Peter Block kick at the moment.  Luckily all of his books are pretty quick reads and they build on one another.


What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
I can’t say I would strongly recommend this one. It is just Gladwell getting more money out of the same content that he has already published in the New Yorker .. much of which was material for his other books and will seem like old news.


Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
I am referencing this book for my work with the Community Volunteer Network.  This is my favorite of his books so far.  If you are interested in community work / social work / volunteer engagement, I would recommend this title.  It is very similar to Better Together by Robert Putnam (another book I started reading and never finished).


A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
I think Pink needs to read Matthew Crawford’s book and get back to me.

Things I have bought but have not even begun to read:

CompanyCommand (assigned)


Images of Organization (assigned)


Learning Through Knowledge Management (assigned)
The Knowledge Evolution: Expanding Organizational Intelligence (assigned)


The World Cafe


Storytelling in Organizations


Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn

Read Full Post »